Traditionally Associated Peoples and Ethnographic Resources

The Ethnographic Resources Inventory: How NPS Integrates Ethnography Nationally and Locally
Mark Schoepfle, National Park Service
February 26, 2003


The Ethnographic Resources Inventory (ERI) is a data management system for National Park Service (NPS) ethnographers and parks. It is therefore a window that allows us to see how ethnographic data management can be important to ethnography, and in turn, how ethnography, can be integrated into NPS resource management.

What is an Ethnographic Resource and Resource Information?

An ethnographic resource is a resource under NPS stewardship that is of cultural significance to peoples traditionally associated with it. In other words, the resource is "closely linked with [the peoples'] own sense of purpose, existence as a community, and development as ethnically [and occupationally] distinctive peoples."

Thus, an ethnographic resource can appear, at first glance, like any other resource over which NPS has stewardship. The difference is that its meaning comes from how it is viewed by traditionally associated peoples. These peoples are distinct from the public in general, in that:

There are four major categories of ethnographic resource: landscape, place, object, or natural resource. NPS ethnographers generally consider two major categories of information, when describing or describing ethnographic resources: "Ethnographic resource" and "Group view." "Ethnographic resource" information includes

"Group view" information includes

How ERI fits into NPS Resource Management

The concept of "ethnographic resource" may puzzle the uninitiated. Why would one be focusing on discrete resources rather than gathering a holistic view of the cultures of park neighbors and other traditionally associated groups? The answer has been that NPS planning centers around resource management. Programs are developed and funded not by staff activities, but by the resources these staff have to manage. Thus, NPS ethnographers often have to look at the culture of a people through the window of the resources important to them. The ERI is thus an integral part of NPS management.

The ERI helps fit ethnography into the National Park Service's National Strategic Plan because ERI is a tool for resource management in the parks and other NPS units. According to the National Strategic Plan the ERI (NPS CRM Guidance Release 5, 1997, 10:169). The ERI

…will aid in meeting legislative, regulatory, and policy requirements for identifying ethnographic resources and associated groups, in forecasting consultation needs and budgets; in notifying interested groups about anticipated planning activities; in developing appropriate public involvement strategies; and in identifying resources that require monitoring.

Therefore, the ERI has been incorporated into the NPS Strategic Plan and Performance Plan to evaluate and report on how NPS cares for ethnographic resources through the Government Performance Results Act of 1993 (GPRA). The ERI is incorporated into NPS resource management at different levels. The first level starts with the Mission Statement., which says:

The National Park Service preserves unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. The Park Service cooperates with partners to extend the benefits of natural and cultural resource conservation and outdoor recreation throughout this country and the world.

Four strategic planning goals derive from this Mission Statement:

The ERI fits into Goal 1: to Preserve Park Resources. From this goal can be derived two sub goals:

  1. 1a: Natural and Cultural resources and associated values are protected, restored and maintained in good condition and managed within their broader ecosystem and cultural context.
  2. 1b: The National Park Service contributes to knowledge about natural and cultural resources and associated values; management decisions about resources and visitors are based on adequate scholarly and scientific information

Breaking down Sub goal 1b (knowledge, inventory and research) in more detail yields the following data systems, including ERI (1b2e). We list the databases for "cultural resources." Notice that these databases correspond to specific programs for NPS cultural resources.

  1. Ib1: Natural Resources
  2. Ib2: Cultural Resources
  3. Ib2a: Archeological Sites (ASMIS)
  4. Ib2b: Cultural Landscapes (CLI/CLAIMS)
  5. Ib2c: Historic Structures (NRIS)
  6. Ib2d: Museum Collections (ANCS)
  7. Ib2e: Ethnographic Resources (ERI)
  8. Ib2f: Historical Research

Notice that NPS intends to integrate all these databases, since the information in them overlaps. Thus, ERI, as well as other database can hold information about a resource that can be found in one of these other NPS databases. In addition, NPS is in the process of planning to integrate both natural and cultural resource databases through a geographic information system (GIS). Nothing final has been decided on such integration, although it is clearly important to NPS planners.

Resource Management in the Parks and Regions: Process and Mandatory Data

As with other databases, the ERI is the means by which "each park will develop and maintain a management listing of cultural and natural features accorded significance by traditionally associated peoples" (NPS CRM Guidance, Release No. 5, 1997, 10:169). As with other NPS data systems, the data are originated from the parks. The parks thus own the data, and have ultimate say-so as to whether an ethnographic resource record is entered for a particular park. Regional ethnographers/ERI coordinators then train park staff, and insure data reliability and validity. Finally, the National Coordinator, in the Archeology and Ethnography Program, then certifies that the data meet mandatory requirements for GPRA.

Mandatory data provide information necessary to show that an NPS cultural resource is an ethnographic resource, and not a resource whose record could just as well be located in another database. During the development of the ERI, NPS ethnographers agreed that the following information would be mandatory:

The first, second, fifth, and sixth are what we referred to earlier as "ethnographic resource" data i.e., data whose information is defined from the standpoint of NPS management. The third and fourth attributes are "group view" data i.e., data whose information derives from the viewpoints of the peoples traditionally associated with the resource.

All "ethnographic resource" and "group view" data are intended to provide the parks an institutional memory that:

Tracking conditions is important. For example, the "group view" of an ethnographic resource's condition or recommended treatment may differ from the "ethnographic resource", or NPS, view. Local Navajos around Canyon DeChelly or Appalachian neighbors around Cumberland Gap may want an unoccupied house left alone to deteriorate, rather than be upgraded or preserved. Moreover, the reasons may differ for each group. The conditions, and perspectives about these conditions, may change through time. Tracking this information through time is important both to park resource management and servicewide management policy. Similarly, tracking consultation is important because perceptions, issues, concerns, and even the very composition of a group may change through time. Thus, having a database be a quick reference that points to records of condition and consultation is valuable – particularly to a superintendent who is new to a particular park!

How the ERI is Implemented

The ERI is implemented differently in each region, and reflects different administrative conditions and perhaps management cultures.

Despite the different paths to implementation, ERI ethnographers/coordinators have had to insure that parks have bought into the ERI. Thus implementation has been slow while parks integrate the concept of ethnographic resources ERI into their management systems.

The Bad News: Implementation and Costs

By incorporation of the ERI into GPRA, NPS plans eventually to use the ERI as part of the decision apparatus for funding ethnography projects and programs. As with other management databases, the connection between ERI and funds is highlighted by the mission statement, which is centered around resource management. Through GPRA and the NPS planning apparatus, parks and program funding will be centered increasingly around the resources managed, not the activities undertaken. Thus, the ERI will become increasingly an integral part of the NPS Ethnography Program.

So far, the ERI has been implemented on a shoestring. The national ethnography program has made available funds for software development, planning and development meetings, and demonstration projects in GIS. However, no national funds have targeted the ERI's implementation in the regions and parks. Regional and park ethnographers have had to secure whatever financial and in-kind support they can from park and regional sources. GPRA strategic funding makes clear that demands for further base funding are seen as "a lack of understanding of what the organization can accomplish with a given amount of dollars and FTE" (NPS 2000, 6-13). Thus, NPS planners assume that the ERI should fit into what ethnographers already do.

However, GPRA is not without direct good effects as well, because NPS ethnographers now have an additional way of engaging the parks and answering ethnographic questions. Many questions emerge from interaction with the parks, and from the perspective afforded by the ERI and the concept of ethnographic resources. For example:

The answers to some of these questions involve simply a clear explanation of what ethnographers do. For example, there is no reason why traditionally associated groups cannot be occupational groups such as sports fishermen at Cape Cod, as well as the more familiar Indian tribe. It may be possible that a family is, or may represent, a traditionally associated group. Groups have cultures, and ethnographers can study them.

On the other hand, ERI presently proposes no sharp rules on how traditionally associated groups may be divided into smaller sub-groups, or on how the subgroups may be represented. Questions such as these as well as issues such as legitimacy may have to be negotiated between park management and ethnography. Such negotiation will involve maintaining the integrity of ethnography on the one hand and accommodating the management needs of the parks on the other. Other issues will no doubt arise as the ethnographic data management system matures and shapes ethnography's increased involvement in the National Park Service.